Born in Jackson on 18 June 1946 and reared in Forest, Constance Slaughter was one of six daughters of Willie L. Slaughter and Olivia Kelly Slaughter, both of whom were educators and civil rights pioneers. Slaughter graduated as valedictorian of at the segregated E. T. Hawkins High School and enrolled in 1963 at Tougaloo College, where she met civil rights leader Medgar Evers. His June 1963 murder, along with the values instilled by her parents and the racial injustices she witnessed, inspired her to join the civil rights movement.
After serving as student body president and graduating from Tougaloo College with a degree in political science, Slaughter attended law school at the University of Mississippi. In 1970, amid death threats and constant prejudice, she became the first African American woman to receive a law degree from the school. She subsequently worked for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law as a staff attorney and represented the families of two students who were killed by highway patrolmen during the Jackson State University massacre. Slaughter-Harvey filed the desegregation lawsuit against the Mississippi State Highway Patrol that resulted in the hiring of African American highway patrolmen.
Slaughter-Harvey became executive director of Southern Legal Rights and later the director of East Mississippi Legal Services, an organization she founded to provide high-quality legal representation for minority and economically disenfranchised people. She joined Mississippi governor William Winter’s staff in 1980 as director of human development and later served as assistant secretary of state for elections and public lands under Secretary of State Dick Molpus. Slaughter-Harvey led the effort that resulted in the enactment of mail-in voter registration in 1991 and the movement to permit voter registration at the Department of Motor Vehicles, becoming the first African American and first woman to serve the Motor Voter National Advisory Board. In 1995 Slaughter-Harvey worked for the Mississippi Democratic Party, coordinating campaigns for all of the party’s candidates statewide. She has served as a member of the Board of Trustees of Tougaloo College and was an adjunct professor there from 1970 to 2005. The Constance Slaughter-Harvey Endowed Chair in Political Science was created in her honor; her daughter, Constance Olivia Harvey Burwell, became the fifth generation of the Slaughter family to attend the college. Slaughter-Harvey has formally taught and informally mentored many of Mississippi attorneys. Through her work as president of the W. L. and O. K. Slaughter Memorial Foundation, named for her parents, Slaughter-Harvey supervised an after-school tutorial and summer enhancement program for at-risk children and youth.
Slaughter-Harvey has received numerous awards from such organizations as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Mississippi Women Lawyers, the Mississippi Bar Association, and the American Bar Association. The Black Law Students Association at the University of Mississippi is named in her honor, and in 2001 she received the law school’s Public Service Award. Slaughter-Harvey has served as president of the Magnolia Bar Association, was the first African American judge in Mississippi, and was the first African American and woman elected president of the National Association of Election Directors.
Slaughter-Harvey continues to practice law, focusing on promoting and defending the civil rights of all people and protecting the elderly. She is also the founder and president of the Legacy Education and Community Empowerment Foundation, which works to provide youth and student enrichment, mentoring, enhancement services, intergenerational programs, and other educational and empowerment programs in Forest.
- African American Yearbook, 2007–2008 (2008)
- Clarice Campbell and Oscar Allan Rogers Jr., Mississippi: The View from Tougaloo (2nd ed., 2002)
- Susie Erenrich, Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: An Anthology of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement (1999)
- Legacy Education and Community Empowerment Foundation website, http://www.leacef.com/home.html
- Cora Norman, Mississippi in Transition: The Role of the Mississippi Humanities Council (2009)
- John M. Perkins, Let Justice Roll Down (1976)
- Constance Slaughter-Harvey, interview by George King, Southern Changes 1 (1997)
- Constance Slaughter-Harvey, University of Mississippi Law Journal (Fall 2004)
- Judy H. Tucker and Charline R. McCord, eds., Growing Up in Mississippi (2008)